Saturday, April 13, 2013
Dark Tower (1989)
I don't know the production back story behind Dark Tower, a movie about a haunted skyscraper that's as dumb as it sounds. I know it stars the always fun Michael Moriarty, no stranger to the bad movie circuit, known for his star turn in Q and the original Troll. I know it was filmed in Spain and as such has several different languages spoken throughout the movie, which is really disorienting. I know it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But, although I don't know the circumstances under which this movie was made, I do know it has a lot of heart to it. It's like a kindergartner's macaroni art project. It's not really good, but it's charming and kind of enjoyable to watch under the influence of a lot of alcohol.
The movie follows Carolyn Page (Jenny Agutter, known for her performances in Walkabout and Call the Midwife), an architect/general business lady for a new high rise building in Italy, even though everybody is speaking Spanish. But as contraction continues, a string of strange accidents begin. A window washer falls onto a high level executive. An elevator crushes a man to death. A man randomly fires a gun into an open crowd. Naturally, the only explanation is ghosts. Security consultant Dennis Randall (Moriarty) begins to investigate, calling on paranormal investigator Max Gold (Theodore Bikel) and exorcist/Captain Quint but for ghosts instead of sharks Sergie (Kevin McCarthy) as they untangle this web of lies involving conspiracy, murder, and zombies.
The first problem with the movie is one that's both obvious yet easy to understand why it was missed: a haunted skyscraper is really silly. My guess is that they assumed a haunted house, like Amityville Horror, would easily translate over to a taller building, but the trouble lies with the local. Haunted houses are scary because they are isolated, usually out in the middle of nowhere, and the idea of a place as intimate as your home being invaded by something you can't stop is a scary concept. Skyscrapers, on the other hand, are smack dab in the middle of a city, filled with hundreds and hundreds of people. There's no sense of invasion because it's a shared space, not one that's sacred and special to yourself. Additionally, it's not even an apartment complex, it's a place of business. There's a reason more horror movies aren't set in offices.
Actually, to say that the set dressing is "office-like" is very generous. The movie is set in a place under construction, so it makes sense that the surroundings would be in disrepair. That being said, it would be nice if the disrepair was actually purposeful and not clearly just an excuse not to clean up whatever abandoned building the production team was able to sneak into. This movie cuts a lot of little corners like this here and there, and they eventually build up. There's this one shot of an elevator shaft, shot from the bottom, that films the elevator going up then coming down. The movie reuses this one shot at least 10 times throughout the film. Occasionally they change the speeds to go faster or slower, depending on how much time the director needs to fill to pad this movie out to an hour and a half.
The acting throughout is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a low-budget horror movie about a haunted skyscraper shot in Spain. Moriarty is the best part, so close to actually acting like a normal human being yet juuuuuust missing the mark. Bikel's performance as a ghost hunter leads to several monologues that makes you realize he should be saying these things to a therapist instead of yelling about his professional shortcomings to a vengeful ghost. Agutter is mediocre until the end, where (spoiler!) it's revealed that she killed her husband, thus leading him to returning as a vengeful spirit. Honestly, she puts in a pretty good performance here, really selling her motives and anger towards her late husband, and I totally bought it.
In fact, the last 10 minutes or so are surprisingly strong. Once we see the ghost and get the chase scene this movie was building up to I was 100% invested. Dark Tower should have been made nowadays, where it could have been edited down to 20 minutes and released as a short film online. However, as it is, it's very padded and far too ugly. It should be no surprise that this is a crap film, but it's fun to watch in the right mindset, and honestly I'd rather see a thousand more movies like this over Thankskilling or most of the horror movies on Netflix. On the Wicker Scale, this movie is firmly on Nicholas Cage's side of the meter, but perhaps Lee could be convinced after a couple boxes of wine.